Flying From Alternate Airports: Cheaper? Faster?

Peter Thornton, May 13, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q:  I live really close to a small airport, but it’s cheaper to fly from a larger airport in a nearby city.  Where should I fly from?

    A:  There are many factors that will play into this decision.  Make sure you consider all of them before you jump on a lower fare, just because it is lower.

    First of all, are there non-stop flights available from the larger airport?  This could make all the difference.  Many smaller airports only have a few commuter flights to the airline's hub cities, where you'll likely have to connect to your final destination.  If the cheaper flight from a larger airport has a connection as well, you may want to consider just flying from your local airport.  Say the commute to the larger airport is 1-2 hours.  You need to consider this time as one leg of your journey.   If you also have a flight connection, this is essentially a 2-stop trip.  Would you buy an airline ticket from your local airport if it had 2 stops?  On the other hand, if non-stops are offered from the alternate airport, it could actually be a shorter travel day to simply travel by land to the larger airport and fly non-stop to your destination.  Make sure you calculate the total travel time of both options.

    Of course, you must consider the actual cost benefit of flying from an alternate airport as well.  Airport parking is almost always absurdly high.  If you normally get a ride to your local airport, but would need to park at the alternate airport, this could cut out any savings you made by making the drive.  Of course, if you are traveling with multiple people, the savings will multiply.  Also, consider other ways to travel to the alternate airport.  There are many shuttle or bus services that will take travelers from outside markets directly to larger airports in the region.   You should definitely consider this if traveling alone as it is almost always cheaper (and environmentally friendly) to share the ride.   Plus, you can rest as if you were on a flight, cause you won’t be behind the wheel.

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